Off the Shelf: Reaching Out and Getting Out

Last week was International Outreach Week. The Association for Bookmobile and Outreach Services made this designation to celebrate the work libraries do outside of the walls of their buildings.

Outreach, or taking the library to where people are, has been a growing part of the work of our library for many years. So far this month, the library team has been at STEM Fest, a career fair, a Staying Ahead class, a family resource night, multiple afterschool programs and classrooms in Burlington and West Burlington, and several senior living centers.

Because of the increased and important role that outreach and programs play for our library and our community, we recently revamped an open position and reworked our organizational chart to create a division focused on Outreach and Program Services for all ages. Based on the expanding partnerships and new ideas coming from this change, I’m so glad we made it.

Not too many years ago, most people who thought of public library programs knew them for storytimes and the expanded calendar of events in the summer for kids. These programs were almost always held at the library. Outside of weekly storytimes and those busy summer months of performers and special events, there were occasional other programs, but nothing like the full calendars of classes and event that public libraries offer today. As you can see from the list of programs at area libraries that runs each month with this column, offering classes and events is a big part of what public libraries do. In the years before the pandemic, we offered about 1,000 programs a year with around 30,000 participants. Attendance has ramped back up and even in some cases surpassed prepandemic levels, with more programs and participants in January of this year than we had in January of 2020.

Outreach activity doesn’t appear in that monthly list with this column or our online calendar of events, so it can be harder to see what a big role it plays for public libraries. We joke that one of our library team members has days that she is out of the library more than she is in it, which is wonderful because it means that she is connecting with kids and teens where they are, in the classroom and at afterschool programs.

Several members of our team are active with school outreach, including taking storytime to elementary afterschool programs, doing a book club and taking STEM activities for older afterschool kids, and doing book talks in classrooms. Thanks to the Murray Foundation, we also offer storytimes to area preschools reaching about 30 classes and 500 children each month. Just this month, one of our team members started a new monthly storytime in the first grade classrooms in West Burlington.

One of our longest running outreach initiatives is the Home Library service. Individuals in our community who physically aren’t able to come to the library may be eligible to have the library come to them with deliveries of library materials. Our team member who coordinates this service works with each person to learn what they like to read and which formats work best for them in order to create a customized bag of materials each month. We are grateful to the Altrusa Club and other volunteers who make these deliveries.

Another project with a long history is Babies Need Books. Through this effort, every family that has a child at the local hospital is gifted a board book for their home library, along with some information on the library and the importance of reading to babies from birth. Thanks to support from the Friends of the Library, the local Rotary club, and Delta Kappa Gamma, the library provided 437 books in 2021.

We have enjoyed increasing our outreach to area senior care centers. For the last couple years, we have been delivering activity kits and now have two centers that we are doing in-person activities at each month.

While we don’t have an official bookmobile yet, we have offered some bookmobile services for several years. We have used various borrowed vehicles in the summer to take books to different day camps and tried other stops in the community. We are making plans for a bookmobile in the near future.

These are just some of the ways that we are getting out and reaching out into the community with our services. With our new internal structure to support outreach and programs, I’m excited to see what the future holds.

See you at the library and out in the community!